I looked up from my book, my eyes meeting the wide, excited green ones of my little friend.
I smiled at the sweet face gazing at me. "Hi yourself, Teddy!" Absently, I pushed my reading glasses up as I glanced around, frowning. "Where's your nanny?"
He grinned and pointed at the ice cream cart, where a tall man wearing a baseball cap was watching us closely. "My dad's here today! He's getting me a cone."
"I see. What kind?"
He grinned and almost squirmed in delight. "One of both. Chocolate and vanilla."
I grinned back. "Aren't you lucky?"
He nodded. "It's my birthday."
"Well, happy birthday, Teddy! How old are you?"
He cocked his head to the side, holding up his hand with all his fingers extended. "Five."
"Wow, that's a big one."
"That's what my dad says. He says five is special, so today I get five birthday wishes." He sat down beside me and leaned close, his voice a whisper. "I like wishes."
"Is the cone one of your wishes?"
He nodded. "And coming to the park with my dad. He's not at work today."
"I see. That makes you very happy, doesn't it?"
"I like it when my dad's home. It's the best."
I had to smile. Teddy talked about his dad a lot.
"Is that a new book?"
I nodded, impressed at how observant this child was. "It is. I read a lot."
"I know. You always have a book. Your niece isn't here today?"
"No. She's at home with her mom and dad."
"You come here anyway. I've seen you every day."
I smiled. What a remarkable little boy. "It's a nice park and I like to read. Besides, then I get to see you, too."
His smile was wide. "Yeah. That's good. My dad reads to me. I'm still learning."
"Teddy, don't bother the nice lady too much. Here's your cone."
We both looked up at Teddy's father, standing there and holding out the double scoop cone to Teddy who took it with a grin. Then he reached for the vanilla one his dad was holding in his other hand and turned to me, thrusting it forward. "This is for you."
I frowned and looked at his father, who shrugged and smiled. "It's his birthday. One of his wishes was to buy the reading lady a cone." His voice was serious. "I can't say no to a birthday wish."
I chuckled and took the cone from Teddy, leaning in as I did to kiss his chubby cheek. "Well then, I can't either. Thank you for including me in your birthday wishes, Teddy."
He grinned widely. "I got a birthday kiss, Dad! I didn't even hafta use a wish!"
His dad laughed and sat down, extending his hand. "Hi. I'm Edward. I see my son has already made himself very comfortable beside you. I hope we're not disturbing…"
I smiled as I shook his hand, his large palm easily encompassing mine. "Not at all. I'm Bella."
His return smile was warm. "Bella."
I ducked my head, licking my cone as I wondered why my name sounded so nice when he said it.
"So you came to the park, got an ice cream cone, and now have three wishes left, Teddy. Do you know what you want?" I asked him.
He frowned around the ice cream he was busy eating. "I only have two. I wished to get you ice cream too."
Edward leaned forward, pulling out a handkerchief and wiping Teddy's face with a smile. "Easy there, kiddo. You don't have to inhale it. The swings will still be waiting when you're done."
I smiled as I watched them. Who carried handkerchiefs anymore? It seemed like such an old-fashioned, gentlemanly thing to do. Edward had pulled his hat off, and he was leaning over Teddy as he cleaned up the ice cream on his face. Their hair was the exact same shade of copper, gleaming in the sunlight, in riotous waves all over their heads. When he glanced up, I saw they also shared the same green eye color, although Edward's eyes lacked the mischievous sparkle his son's contained. His were kind, but tired, and I had the strangest desire to make them look more like Teddy's happy ones.
"I don't think you wanting to give me an ice cream cone should count against your wishes, Teddy. How about I give you back a wish? Then you'd still have three left. If that's okay with your dad, of course."
He looked at his dad. "Can I, Dad? Please? 'Cause my other wish is a big one and I was saving two of them for it! Please?"
Edward chuckled. "You still haven't told me this big wish, kiddo."
Teddy shook his head. "It's a secret one, Dad. I can't tell you."
"But how will I make it come true?"
Teddy leaned back, grinning. "You already are."
Edward frowned and glanced up at me, shrugging in confusion. "Well, if Bella's giving you back a wish, I guess you can keep the other two for your secret one, Teddy."
He grinned and went back to licking his cone happily. "I won't get it today, though."
I glanced down at Teddy. "Are you saving it for something?"
He nodded seriously. "It's my biggest wish."
He jumped up, handing his cone to his dad. "I'm going to play now, Dad. You can have my cone."
Edward laughed. "Thanks, bud."
He looked at me pleadingly. "You won't go, right, Bella? You'll watch me?"
"K!" He scampered off happily, going straight for the swings.
We were quiet for a minute. "He's wonderful," I murmured.
Edward glanced at me, nodding as he finished off Teddy's cone. "He's a great kid. Sorry if he's intruding or bothering you."
"He isn't. He played with my niece the day I brought her here, and he's come and spoken to me every day since. I look forward to seeing him."
He leaned back, smiling. "He's talked about the reading lady every night the last while. He was really hoping you'd be here today. Kate, his nanny, says his favorite part of the day is talking to you."
I blushed at his words. I loved chatting with Teddy. He was cute and funny and very smart for someone so young. He always had lots of questions, and he seemed to really listen when I answered them. It was the bright spot in my lonely afternoons as well. I'd only discovered the park a couple weeks ago, even though I had been living here for almost six weeks. Now, I came here every day after work to read and enjoy the fresh air before I went back to the tiny, stuffy little apartment I lived in. Teddy made me feel less…isolated. "He's my favorite part as well."
He glanced at me quizzically before turning his attention back to the swings. "We've been coming to the park for years, and I haven't seen you here before," he said conversationally. "Did you recently move to the area?"
I swallowed. "Yes."
"You have family close by? Teddy mentioned a niece?"
"They live in a small town about three hours away. My sister came for a quick visit—just for the day. But she, ah, had to go home, of course."
He nodded, but didn't pry any further. We were both quiet for a moment as I ate my cone and watched Teddy on the swings.
"He loves the park," I observed.
"He always has. Our house has a nice backyard he plays in, but he likes to be with other children." He turned and grinned at me. "He can hardly wait to start school and be a 'big boy every day,' he tells me." His face became almost sad. "He's in such a hurry to grow up."
"My niece, Laura, is the same. She's a couple months younger than Teddy. They played together the day I brought her here."
Edward smiled at me. "You're close with her?"
I smiled back. "I was. I miss her, but I hope to see her again soon." I paused. "Um, you have a little…"
"Ice cream. On your face." I pointed to his cheek.
He wiped his hand across his face, missing the ice cream completely. When he raised his eyebrows at me in a silent question, I grinned and shook my head. Without thinking, I lifted my hand. He leaned in toward me, and I gently wiped the ice cream away, holding out my finger to show him. "Got it."
His hand covered mine, and before I could react, his lips opened and he pulled my finger into his mouth, the tongue swirling on my skin, gathering up the sweet, melted goo. His eyes remained locked on mine as he pulled back. "Thanks," he said with a smile, his voice slightly husky. "Too good to waste."
I nodded dumbly, suddenly aware of how close he was and how I was reacting to him. My entire body was humming, wanting to be closer. The desire to feel those soft lips and tongue on other parts of my body was intense.
I blinked as he pulled away, looking over as Teddy suddenly shouted.
"Excuse me." He stood up and hurried over to Teddy, as I sat staring after him.
What was that?
I lifted my book up, pretending to read, but my eyes kept drifting over to Edward and Teddy. I could hear their laughter as they played, going from the swings to the slide and then onto the monkey bars. I giggled softly watching Edward hold his long legs up as he followed Teddy , swinging from bar to bar, his feet still dragging at times, as he played follow the leader with his son. The resemblance between them was so strong—even their laughter sounded similar, the only difference being Edward's was deeper and longer. They both laughed with their whole bodies, their faces crinkling up with mirth, shoulders shaking and hands wrapped around their stomachs when they got going. Eventually they moved to the sandbox, and I marvelled at Edward's gift of play with his son. He was as much into the castles and imaginary kingdoms as Teddy was. They were wonderful to watch, and as I stole glances, I felt a sense of sadness creep up on me. I blinked rapidly and knew it was time to go. I looked over again at the two brightly covered heads bent over together and sighed. I stood up to leave and noticed Edward's hat still sitting on the bench. I didn't want to interrupt them, so I quietly went over and placed the hat on the edge of the sandbox and turned to walk away. I had only made it a few steps when I heard my name being called out.
Turning, I saw Teddy barrelling toward me, Edward hot on his heels. "Bella, where are you going?" Teddy demanded.
I smiled down at him, his little face dirty with sand and sweat, his green eyes so serious as he stared at me. "I have to go home, Teddy."
"Teddy, that's none of our business," Edward reprimanded him gently. "Remember your manners."
"But Daddy…if Bella goes, I won't get my third wish!"
I glanced at Edward, who was looking at his son confused. I knelt in front of Teddy. "What's your wish, Teddy?"
He bit his lip as he drew in a deep breath. "It's an important one."
Edward knelt beside me. "Tell us."
Us. Just the sound of that tiny word from him made me shiver.
"You're gonna make spaghetti for supper, Daddy, right? Your spaghetti?" He paused. "Is that a wish?"
Edward ruffled his hair and grinned. "Nope. That's a freebie, little man. So you can use a wish and save the two you want for your special one. Okay?"
Teddy looked at me, his eyes pleading. "I want Bella to have supper with us."
I swallowed and looked at Edward, unsure how to answer. His green eyes met mine briefly before smiling at Teddy.
"Go back to the sandbox, okay, Teddy? I'll be right there. I'll give Bella all the information about supper."
Teddy clapped his hands and ran back to the sandbox. Both Edward and I stood up.
He held up his hand. "Hear me out, Bella. I know what you're thinking. You don't know me or my son—or anything about us. I can understand you being nervous about agreeing to come to my house alone for dinner. If I could ease those nerves, would you come? For Teddy?" He paused. "It obviously means a lot to him. This is the second of his wishes he's used that involves you."
"Okay," I whispered.
"My name's Edward Cullen. I'm thirty-three years old, and I live with my son two blocks from here. Both of my parents are alive, and I have a sister Rose, who is way too bossy, a pain in in my ass, and I adore her. I'm an architect, which I love, but I travel a lot, which I hate, because I miss my son." He pulled out a card and handed it to me. "You can call this number, and they'll verify who I am if you want. Ask for Heidi."
I took the card silently.
He turned and looked around. He pointed to a picnic table. "That's Mrs. Cope and her husband. They live next door and have known Teddy since we moved there four years ago." His finger moved. "That's Victoria and her son James; Teddy plays with him often. That couple over there are Irina and Garrett, they don't have any kids, but come to the park every weekend." He paused, drawing in a breath. "You can ask any of them about me, and they'll tell you whatever you need to know to feel comfortable enough to join us for dinner."
There was one question I had to ask. "Teddy's mother? Is she, um, I mean…" My voice trailed off.
Edward shook his head. "She passed away when Teddy was a baby—he doesn't even remember her."
"I'm sorry," was my automatic response.
A shadow crossed his face. "It was a years ago, Bella, and we were already getting divorced. I'm the only parent Teddy has."
"Oh. Are you sure you're okay with this? You don't know me, either."
He nodded. "Teddy adores you. He doesn't latch on to many people—ever. He wants you to come for supper, and I'm good with that." He hesitated again. "Because even though my son said it was his wish…I'd like that as well." He reached out and grasped my hand tightly. "Very much, Bella."
I looked down to where our hands were joined. His hand felt so right wrapped around mine, comforting and safe. I was surprised how badly I wanted to have dinner with Teddy…and if I was being truthful, with Edward as well. I met his steady gaze, finding nothing but honest emotion looking at me.
I nodded. "I'd like that—on one condition."
"I get to bring dessert."
A wide grin split his face. "No objections to that."
"What is Teddy's favorite cake?"
His grin got wider. "Cake? We love cake!"
"Teddy's pretty simple. He loves chocolate and vanilla—equally the same. That's why he had a scoop of each this morning—he can never choose. So either will make him very happy."
Edward took his business card from my hand and wrote something on the back. "Here is the address and my cell number. Come around four? Teddy was up so early I know we'll have to eat around five and he'll be passed out by seven." He handed the card back to me. "And I'm serious, Bella. Call my office. Talk to some of these people. Call your sister and give her my address and cellphone. Tell her where you'll be. I want you to be comfortable."
I nodded, planning on stopping by the picnic table, yet already knowing I didn't have to.
For some reason, I already trusted Edward...which, given my recent past, mystified me.
Thanks to JenRar for betaing.
Thank YOU for reading. So nice to see you again!
Next update on Thursday.